Yusef Salaam, who was wrongly accused in the infamous “Central Park Five” case, has won a seat on the New York City Council, marking a significant comeback decades after the false rape accusation at age 15.
Salaam triumphed in the 9th District Democratic Primary, defeating various candidates, including the incumbent and one endorsed by Mayor Eric Adams. He ran uncontested on Tuesday night to officially claim the council seat in central Harlem.
Expressing his gratitude to his fellow “Exonerated Five” members, he put out a message of hope for his district. Reflecting on past challenges, he described the victory as a symbol of hope for the Harlem community, adding that it meant resilience in the face of adversity for him.
Salaam observed that his victory is an indication of the exoneration of his brothers, noting the ordeal they endured in the criminal justice system. He vowed to propel the district beyond “neutral,” promising to strive to unlock its full potential and elevate its residents, according to the Daily Mail.
He promised to operate a policy where he would be accessible and committed to his community. According to him, because his roots are in the streets, he considers it an honor to give back to the community that supported him in his darkest times.
Salaam’s campaign gained attention for criticizing a 1989 ad by former President Donald Trump, where he advocated for the death penalty in the Central Park Five case. The campaign strategically timed the statements with Trump’s indictments.
Salaam and four others were wrongly convicted in 1989 for the rape, but later, a serial rapist confessed to the crime. The group, including Salaam, Antron McCray, Kevin Richardson, Raymond Santana, and Korey Wise, spent years in prison before their exoneration.
The Central Park Five crime, marked by the wrongful interrogation of Black and Latino men and boys, stirred racial tensions in the city and garnered significant media coverage. At the time, Trump, a bold real estate executive, fueled the controversy by placing prominent newspaper ads advocating for the reinstatement of the death penalty in New York.
The teens who were wrongly convicted in the Central Park Five attack served five to 12 years before a reexamination led to the discovery of a serial rapist and murderer through DNA evidence and a confession. Their convictions were vacated in 2002, and they received a $41 million settlement.
Salaam, a member of the group, campaigned to address poverty and gentrification in Harlem, leveraging his personal experience with wrongful imprisonment. He said he sees himself as an ambassador for collective pain and expressed a commitment to lead his community.
Trump spent $85,000 on full-page ads advocating for the death penalty, emphasizing punishment over understanding in his message.